Theology of Ministry – Relationator/Contemplator

In contrast to Discipler, I like Relationator. Aric didn’t like the ‘neologism’ (and kudos Aric for working that word into any conversation – you had to while we’re still in school) but I still do because it is a playful way to put it I think. One imagines a relentless cyborg sent from the future to take you out to lunch and talk about your family.


In contrast to “discipler” I really like the word “relationator” because 1) I made it up and 2) it sounds like an Arnold Swartzenegger movie title. The idea of minister as relationator is difficult for me, as an introvert, because it could involve what a friend referred to as being “socializer-in-chief” of a church, which sounds exhausting. I am not a social butterfly, I am a social badger.

On the other hand, when you’re not involved in someone’s life, they can tell. That’s where the 95% of communication that is non-verbal comes in. If we’re checked out, it affects people on a level they may not even notice consciously. So even for those of us who come home from social gatherings exhausted, we need to be connected to the people we’re serving or else we’re not going to get anywhere.

The reason is not so that we can feel great about how likeable we are, at how much everyone enjoys our company. This isn’t a middle school popularity contest. The reason for being relationator was brought home to me by a story told at the Multicultural Conference of the PCUSA earlier this month. A pastor was talking about a conversation she had with a parishioner who’s husband had recently died. The parishioner told all of these horrible stories about her husband – one where he came home from a Session meeting (he was a long-time Elder and pillar of course) and got angry with their children, so he got a two-by-four and beat the family dog to death in front of them to punish them. There were more stories like this. What the woman said to her pastor, who was at a loss for words at this point, was “I always knew that if things really got bad, I could turn to the church for help.” If things got really bad.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that things are really bad for a lot of people, and church should be a place where they can come with all of this brokenness – but that requires a radical kind of trust that can only exist in a genuine relationship. So that’s why we “relationate” – not to feel popular, but so that when something horrible happens, people know the church community is available, that we love them, and that we will do what we can to help them.

In contrast, for me, the minister as contemplator is delicious. Part of our job is to sit around and read and think and reflect. Isn’t that cool? No one should get paid for that. But if we don’t do it regularly, then our ministry is going to suck. Our sermons are going to be flat and wooden and repetitive, even for those who have a lot of skill in performing and public speaking. The classes we teach will just be lifted straight from someone else’s curriculum and presented without depth. Our pastoral care will diminish until it is just damage-control.

One of the worst problems in our society, I think, is its profound lack of silence. We are never quiet, we are never still, we never stop thinking of all of the things we need to do before we collapse into bed, exhausted, to sleep three hours too little and then get up and try to do it all over again. To some degree, I think that the position of the minister is to do some contemplation on behalf of others who don’t feel they can take the time to do it themselves. Ideally, they’ll be slowly moving in that direction, but until that time, we have to be professional contemplators. This contemplation enriches us and gives us the fuel and the fodder for thousands of sermons over a career, for tens of thousands of visits, for hundreds of thousands of interactions.

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